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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Feb. 19

The Bergen Record in New Jersey on Michael Bloomberg’s Democratic Presidential nominee bid:

So-called moderate Democrats in New Jersey and New York are flocking to the self-funded candidacy of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, pausing hardly at all, it seems, to consider — or remember — the suspect policies, especially in the realm of civil rights, that were so deeply troubling and that he fully supported during his long tenure as New York City mayor.

Two of these policies stand out as especially egregious: the so-called “stop-and-frisk” crime fighting strategy aimed primarily at young men of colour, whereby they were routinely detained by police and searched for weapons and drugs; and the New York Police Department’s sweeping, years long surveillance program in Muslim neighbourhoods that spread into New Jersey and caused all manner of havoc and anxiety in Paterson, New Brunswick and elsewhere.

Indeed, the Muslim surveillance, carried out by the NYPD on mosques, bakeries and even university student centres during the Bloomberg years as mayor, and the stop-and-frisk policies are, in actuality, not so far removed from President Donald Trump’s current policy toward undocumented immigrants, or his travel ban on people from “Muslim” countries.

They all smack of racial, ethnic or religious “profiling,” which goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution.

“Mr. Bloomberg’s and Mr. Trump’s actions are hand-in-glove the same thing,” Army Sgt. Syed Farhaj Hassan, a Middlesex County resident and decorated Iraq War veteran, said in an interview with NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. Hassan said Bloomberg’s actions are “still causing issues between Muslim communities and law enforcement.”

As for stop-and-frisk, a policy Bloomberg defended for years, and for which he issued what seemed a heartfelt apology last November, many Democratic politicians across New Jersey seem willing to forgive, forget and move on, citing, if not audibly then at least in private, that ever-operative word, most well-worn in the Democrats’ 2020 playbook: “electability.”

“My concern is that we have to beat Donald Trump,” acknowledged Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, whose city is home to thousands of practicing Muslims.

“I think ‘stop-and-frisk’ was wrong, and that’s looking at it through the lens of being a father who has four sons who walk out the house on any given day with a hoodie and backpack,” said LeRoy Jones, the Essex County Democratic Party chairman, who is black.

However, as Jones told Record political columnist Charles Stile, he was impressed that Bloomberg admitted he was wrong, “something that is not the norm in our business.”

Certainly, Bloomberg has appeal for Democrats who carry the “moderate” banner in New Jersey, and who believe they will need a strong name at the top of the ticket to help carry the day in November. The fact that the well-funded latecomer speaks with authority on gun control, climate change and economic revival that targets both working-class families and low-income communities may be commendable, but it doesn’t represent the whole picture.

Democrats who clamber aboard the Bloomberg train so early in the process, perceiving him as the “only one who can beat Trump,” would do well to study up and be prepared to defend the former mayor’s full record — including these odious law enforcement policies that he endorsed, time and again, and which left assorted scars across minority communities in the New York metro area that are only now beginning to heal.

Online: https://www.northjersey.com/

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Feb. 18

The Los Angles Times on President Donald Trump using his presidential pardoning power:

Not for the first time, President Trump has perverted the presidential pardon power to benefit undeserving recipients with whom he shares a personal or political affinity. On Tuesday, the White House announced that Trump had commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, an epically corrupt politician who once appeared on Trump’s reality TV series “Celebrity Apprentice,” and granted a pardon to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, who was appointed to that post by then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, currently Trump’s personal lawyer.

Objectionable as these grants of clemency may be, they also raise concerns about what would be an even more outrageous abuse of the pardon power: clemency for convicted Trump associates such as Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, and Roger Stone. On Tuesday, Trump again expressed sympathy for Stone, who faces sentencing Thursday in federal court for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (Trump asserted, however, that he hadn’t given any thought to a pardon for Stone.)

The Constitution gives the president essentially unbounded power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” But a principled president will exercise that power in the interests of mercy, not because the recipients of clemency are prominent or political bedfellows or well-connected or cronies of the president himself.

Trump, however, seems to see the pardon power as a way to reward supporters and score political points. The beneficiaries of his clemency have included former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero of the anti-immigrant right who was absolved of a contempt-of-court conviction; conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, who was pardoned after pleading guilty to violating campaign-finance laws; and, more recently, several members of the U.S. military, including three service members accused or convicted of war crimes.

Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 of several counts of corruption, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he won the presidency. He has served eight years of a 14-year sentence. In addition to the “Celebrity Apprentice” connection, Blagojevich was prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald, a friend of James B. Comey, who was fired as FBI director by Trump and who has become an obsession for the president. On Tuesday, Trump said that the case against Blagojevich was “a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick — the same group.” (Comey wasn’t even in the Justice Department when Blagojevich was prosecuted.)

Trump made the point in his own defence that Blagojevich was a Democrat, and the White House noted that some prominent Democrats have supported cutting short Blagojevich’s sentence. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s action wasn’t improper for other reasons. As all five Republican House members warned the president last year in a joint statement: “Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials.”

Kerik was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to tax fraud and making false statements. Among other actions, he admitted to speaking to city regulators on behalf of a contractor who had done renovations on his apartment for free. Kerik was released in 2013.

In granting clemency to Blagojevich and Kerik, Trump, who has spoken in lurid terms about street crime, seemed to be less bothered by crimes involving white-collar defendants and corrupt public officials. That same message is sent by his pardons of Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty in 1998 to concealing an extortion attempt by former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, and junk-bond king Michael Milken.

Some of the grants of clemency issued by Trump on Tuesday are defensible, including commutations for two women convicted of drug offences. But often when Trump extends clemency to a recipient, deserving or less so, he does so after the intervention of a celebrity. That was the case with Alice Marie Johnson, whose sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction was commuted after intervention by reality television star Kim Kardashian West. That hardly seems like justice.

Overall, Trump’s exercise of the pardon power has been at best whimsical and at worst self-serving and blatantly political. The president would be a committing an even worse corruption of the pardon power if he used it to annul the convictions of figures such as Manafort and Stone. Given Trump’s contempt for law enforcement and the judicial system, that is a real concern.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

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Feb. 18

The Wall Street Journal on the Virginia Senate shelving the restrictive gun-control proposal:

Democrats took over both houses of the Virginia Legislature in November thanks in large part to voter support for gun control after mass shootings. Or so they claimed. But if they believe that, they now have some explaining to do after Gov. Ralph Northam’s restrictive gun-control proposal was shelved Monday for lack of votes.

The bill had passed the state House, 51 to 48. But in the state Senate four Democrats joined every Republican on the Judiciary Committee to kill Mr. Northam’s so-called assault-weapons ban. The bill would have prohibited the sale of many semiautomatic firearms, as well as banned the possession of magazines holding more than 12 rounds.

The latter would have required tens of thousands of Virginians either to surrender their legally purchased magazines or face up to a year in prison. The Democratic rout of the Democratic bill is a rebuke to Mr. Northam, who has interpreted last year’s narrow takeover of the Legislature as a license to try to impose restrictive gun laws similar to those in New York and California.

The Virginia Legislature has waved through much of his gun agenda, including universal background checks, and a one-gun-per-month purchasing limit. But the voter backlash has been loud and swift, with more than 20,000 Virginia gun owners rallying last month at the state capitol in Richmond. Ninety-one of Virginia’s 95 counties have also declared themselves to be “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” saying they won’t enforce state gun laws that violate the U.S. Constitution.

The committee vote refers the bill to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further study, and some Democrats are attempting to mollify gun-control activists by claiming they aren’t opposed to a ban as much as to the bill’s vague wording. The truth is that the dissenting Democrats are worried that a voter revolt on gun rights would cost their seats, and perhaps their two-seat majority in the state Senate.

The conventional media wisdom is that the politics of gun rights has moved left, and that bans are now possible even in swing states. Every one of the leading Democratic presidential candidates favours a ban on so-called assault rifles. But support for individual gun rights runs deep across the country. Voters rightly mistrust politicians who say they support “reasonable” gun laws while campaigning but then try to ban weapons or magazines once in power.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

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Feb. 18

The Washington Times on Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s reaction to the Houston Astros cheating during their 2017 World Series run:

If Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred hated baseball and wanted to destroy it, he wouldn’t be acting any differently. America’s pastime needs new leadership, stat.

Begin with Mr. Manfred’s pathetic reaction to the Houston Astros’ shameless sign-stealing scheme, which went on for years. The Astros have been caught red-handed, using video cameras to steal the signs of opposing teams during the years in which they enjoyed multiple playoff runs, culminating in a World Series win in 2017. Our own Nationals beat the Astros in last year’s World Series, overcoming probable chicanery, and making the Nats’ season all the more impressive.

Mr. Manfred’s reaction? Blanket immunity for all of the players involved and a few light slaps on the wrist for management. The tainted 2017 championship will not be revoked.

So: Fans can’t trust the game they’re watching is on the up-and-up, and Mr. Manfred’s weak response will hardly act as a deterrent against future cheating.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Mr. Manfred plans more foolishness. Starting this year, pitchers will have to face a minimum of three batters when they enter a game — gone will be the days of lefty and righty “specialists.” So too will the days of skilful management — except that the number of pitchers facing “injury” and “having” to come out after a batter or two will surely rise.

And his designs on future playoffs are even more worrying. “MLB is seriously weighing a move from five to seven playoff teams in each league beginning in 2022,” the New York Post reported. “The team with the best record in each league would receive a bye to avoid the wild-card round and go directly to the Division Series. The two other division winners and the wild card with the next-best record would each host all three games in a best-of-three wild-card round. So the bottom three wild cards would have no first-round home games. The division winner with the second-best record in a league would then get the first pick of its opponent from those lower three wild cards, then the other division winner would pick, leaving the last two wild cards to play each other.”

Simple, right?

If your eyes rolled to the back of your head reading that, the nutshell is this: The entire 162 regular game season would become essentially pointless as nearly half the league would make the playoffs. We’re a far cry from the era when the best team in the AL and the best team in the NL simply faced each other in a best of seven world series. That system, incidentally, coincided with the height of baseball’s popularity in America.

Maybe MLB should hire a commissioner who actually likes the game.

Online: https://www.washingtontimes.com/

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Feb. 18

The Japan News on the next steps Japan and China should take regarding the coronavirus:

It is essential for Japan and China to work together to contain the rampant spread of the infectious disease.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a visit to Germany, where they agreed that Tokyo and Beijing would closely co-operate to prevent the further spread of infections from the new coronavirus. Wang expressed gratitude for Japan’s assistance, such as the provision of surgical masks.

More than 70,000 people have been infected with the virus in mainland China and the death toll is rising. The situation is serious.

Initially, cases of people infected with the coronavirus in Japan were limited to repatriates from China or people who had been in contact with tourists from the country. Since the beginning of this month, however, there have been many cases of infections among people who had no confirmed records of having recently travelled to China. Facing a domestic outbreak, Japan is entering a new phase.

Japan and China have strong ties, through economic activities and social exchanges, among other connections. The two countries must share their insights in a bid to curtail the outbreak.

“Dawn is breaking and we are seeing light coming through,” Wang said in an address in Germany, referring to the outbreak in his country. The foreign minister explained Beijing’s countermeasures, such as the sealing off of major cities, in an apparent effort to gain understanding from the international community.

Rather than optimistic presentations, what the international community wants from China is the release of information that will help other countries establish systems to prevent a pandemic.

At every opportunity, Japan must urge China to willingly disclose information and promote the implementation of countermeasures.

A team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) is in China. It will investigate such issues as the extent of the outbreak and the symptoms of patients. It is important to establish an international co-operation framework to understand the onset of coronavirus symptoms and establish treatment methods.

The Japanese government should support these efforts.

Motegi and Wang confirmed that they will continue preparations for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled April visit to Japan as a state guest.

This will be the first state visit to Japan by a Chinese president since 2008. The two governments have attached great importance to the planned visit as a milestone to further develop bilateral relations.

China is considering postponing a meeting of the National People’s Congress, which is held in Beijing in March every year. Can the leaders of Japan and China hold a meeting in a calm atmosphere? The governments of the two countries should carefully consider the situation.

Repeated incursions by Chinese government ships into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are a threat to Japan’s sovereignty and cannot be overlooked.

It is difficult to understand why Beijing has engaged in repeated provocations while at the same time stressing the importance of improving relations with Japan. Such a stance could further worsen sentiment toward China in Japan. The Xi administration should be aware of this and exercise restraint.

Online: https://the-japan-news.com/

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Feb. 14

The Boston Globe on Attorney General William Barr:

No one is as good at hiring an unscrupulous lawyer as Donald Trump. And now it seems that the worst of the bunch, the late Roy Cohn — the lying, cheating, and eventually disbarred attorney who represented both the red-baiting Joseph McCarthy and the president, when Trump was a young real estate developer — has been reincarnated in the form of Bill Barr. The trouble is that this time, the lawyer in question isn’t just a personal lackey or counsel to the president, but rather the attorney general of the United States.

The attorney general, while a political appointee, is bound first and foremost not to the whims and personal interests of the president, but to the law. An enduring lesson of the Watergate scandal, and the norm that attorneys general and presidents from Ford through Obama have upheld since, is that while presidents may set broad policy on law-enforcement priorities, the Justice Department should act independently from the White House when it comes to individual criminal cases.

Representative Thomas Jenckes, the Rhode Island congressman who led the charge to establish the Department of Justice in 1870, underscored the importance of federal lawyers who would act independently of politicians: “The humblest servant of the Government should not be at the mercy or the caprice of the most distinguished politician,” he said in an address in Boston in 1868. “Let every man who may receive a commission from the United States know that he holds it from the people, in service of the people.”

Barr never seems to have gotten that message. His tenure has been defined by dismantling the norm of the Justice Department’s independence from partisan politics and the president’s personal interests. His intervention in criminal proceedings against one of the president’s friends last week, a wildly inappropriate move that led to the resignation of four federal prosecutors from the case, was only the latest travesty on Barr’s watch.

The prosecutors had recommended a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for Roger Stone, a Trump confidant who was convicted of seven felonies, including threatening a witness with physical harm, lying under oath, forging documents, and interfering with a congressional investigation (the results of which, coincidentally, could have damaged the president’s reputation). Barr’s memo recommending a lighter sentence followed President Trump’s tweet on Feb. 11 that called the prosecutors’ recommendation “horrible and very unfair.”

On Thursday, amid mounting criticism, Barr tried to put some daylight between himself and the president, and complained that Trump’s tweets made it “impossible” for him to do his job. But even if, as Barr claims, his sentencing memo had nothing to do with the president’s tweet, he surely would have known of Trump’s sympathy for Stone. And it’s of little wonder he is upset, since the president’s tweets expose Barr yet again as not an independent defender of the law but as the servant of one man who happens to occupy the White House.

In isolation, this interference alone could be sufficient grounds to deem that the attorney general is following the president’s playbook of rewarding criminal loyalists and punishing patriots he deems disloyal to his interests instead of upholding impartial justice. But it is only the latest in a litany of offences that Barr has inflicted on the rule of law since he was confirmed to the post on Valentine’s Day 2019.

Despite having written a 2017 memo that criticized special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s purported theory of obstruction of justice in his investigation of the link between the Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign, Barr did not recuse himself from overseeing and eventually whitewashing the Mueller report findings in his own summary to Congress and public statements. And then, after the Justice Department’s own inspector general found in December that there had been no political bias behind the initiation of the investigation that became the Mueller report, Barr went on the attack with the opposite message. He had already conscripted US Attorney John Durham to discredit the conclusion. Since then, the attorney general has created a special intake process for “intelligence” from the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s activity in Ukraine. The Justice Department under Barr has also defied a congressional subpoena to explain the origin of the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census and tried to prevent the whistle-blower complaint about last summer’s holdup of aid to Ukraine from being shared with Congress. It’s hard to imagine having more compelling evidence of a DOJ that is at the mercy of the president’s personal interests.

Viewed through the rearview mirror, Barr’s insistence in his January 2019 Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing that he could “provide the leadership necessary to protect the independence and the reputation” of the DOJ is downright laughable.

There will be little appetite from House Democrats for an impeachment investigation of Barr in an election year when many want to turn the nation’s focus to the party’s positive agenda. Perhaps that’s for the best. The House Judiciary Committee will hear from Barr on March 31, and Senate Democrats are similarly eager to hold hearings on the Stone case. The House could also invoke its appropriations power, as some have suggested, to curtail Barr’s travel and investigations. But neither Congress nor voters should settle for anything less than a full-throated response to Barr’s transgressions. Members on both sides of the aisle should be publicly demanding his resignation — and they should not relent until they secure it.

The last time a president suggested he had ultimate power over federal criminal investigations turned out to be a litmus test for public servants, and in turn, for the American public, of just how much destruction to democratic norms they were willing to tolerate. In 1973, two Justice Department officials, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, resigned in succession rather than carry out President Nixon’s orders to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox for his request of documents, in what’s now well known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Since Watergate, no president has flagrantly politicized the Justice Department without consequence. (Alberto Gonzales, one of President George W. Bush’s attorneys general, was forced out after his firing of seven US attorneys.) The Saturday Night Massacre, and its course correction for Justice Department independence, occurred only because there were people of conscience and professional principle at the DOJ unwilling to carry out the president’s bidding.

We may not have such a person at the helm of the Justice Department, but they do exist in Washington. Barr must go — and Congress must push him out.

Online: https://www.bostonglobe.com/

The Associated Press

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